“I do not have time for an elaborate tale. I am here to assist your escape,” the warrior declared, poised to step forward.
Yet, before he could cross the threshold, Alber uttered a single word that froze him in his tracks.
In an instant, the warrior found himself unable to move. Panic surged through his veins as he desperately attempted to twist his body, yet it seemed as if he had been transformed into an immovable statue.
“How did you manage to get this far? There are countless surveillance devices from the entrance to this place. You might have mistakenly believed you entered unnoticed, but that’s not the case. You’ve already been caught.”
The warrior strained to grasp the detailed explanation of who the old woman, whom he was meant to help escape, truly was. Myung King had summoned him and given specific instructions.
“Seek out the Fourth King and follow his orders. I have faith in your abilities, and I personally recommended you. You must go beyond your limits and fulfill this mission.”
With the king’s unwavering insistence and the words of Queen Anika echoing in his mind, reminding him to treat the woman with respect and courtesy, the warrior understood the significance of the word ‘noble.’ He could sense an air of authority emanating from the old woman’s speech and demeanor. If not for the mysterious power that bound him, he might have unconsciously kneeled before her.
“I have sought help from everyone. Prior to arriving here, I visited the nobleman of Muen.”
The warrior’s voice grew even more respectful as he spoke. Before being sent to the prison, Eugene had instructed him to visit Muen first. She suspected that Sang-je had orchestrated a scheme within those prison walls. Though they hadn’t discussed the escape plan explicitly, Eugene believed that the head of Muen desired Alber’s freedom and would have insights on how to achieve it.
“The head of Muen said that there is a way to deceive them momentarily. So, we must hurry,” the warrior explained. Alber’s gaze quivered with a mix of emotions.
Sang-je, the mastermind behind the prison’s surveillance devices, wouldn’t have left any room for carelessness. The intricate network of security measures would be extensive and complex. It was impossible for Rahan, who had only visited the place once during her youth, to comprehend every detail.
The heads of Muen, entrusted with the sacred knowledge of escape, had spent countless years passing down their wisdom. Their only leads were the fleeting memories of children who had visited the prison in their youth. Those children, whom Alber had protected all this time, had grown into formidable allies, now committed to ensuring her safety.
“Did the head of Muen send you?” Alber asked, her voice trembling.
“The ones who have commanded me to aid your escape are His Majesty, the Fourth King, and Queen Anika,” the warrior replied.
A profound tenderness overwhelmed Alber as she contemplated the unwavering devotion of her children. Even if she were to follow this warrior and escape the confines of the prison, sacrificing her sight completely seemed like a small price to pay if it meant catching a glimpse of the cerulean sky once more.
However, Alber knew that escaping this prison would be an insurmountable challenge. As the living embodiment of sorcery, deceiving the watchful eyes of the monsters seemed utterly impossible.
Moreover, this sorcery that bound her also preserved her life. She had long surpassed the lifespan of an ordinary human. Without the embrace of sorcery, could she even survive a single day? Perhaps that would be too generous—an existence of mere half a day, if even that.
It wasn’t that Alber clung desperately to her own life, but she still had a purpose left to fulfill. If she were to sever her ties to sorcery, what fate would befall the innocent people residing within the castle walls?
Alber knew she wasn’t a saint. There were times when she felt an overwhelming desire to abandon everything, disregarding the consequences it might have on others. But she couldn’t ignore the fact that these beloved children of hers had a future to live. Even if the road ahead seemed fraught with confusion, she was determined to delay and minimize their hardships as much as she could.
Alber had kept the intricate connection between her sorcery and herself a secret from Muen’s children and even from Jin, whom she had recently met. Therefore, if they sent someone to rescue her, she felt it would be best to only receive their gratitude in return.
“I can’t go with you,” Alber told the warrior.
“What?” he responded, taken aback.
“You must go back and… tell my children, no, tell Anika Jin for me. You don’t need to remember, just listen. When you’re in front of Anika Jin, say, ‘I bring Alber’s message.’ That way, I can convey my words to that child without missing a single one.”
As Alber spoke, the warrior’s gaze turned hazy, and he seemed to lose track of some of her words.
“You’ve come all this way. Thank you for that,” Alber expressed her gratitude.
The warrior’s gaze cleared, but he appeared momentarily bewildered, unable to recall all that he had heard. Once again, he couldn’t help but sense that the old woman before him possessed extraordinary abilities.
“Go now,” Alber urged.
With the wind’s release, the stiffness in the warrior’s body vanished, causing him to stagger briefly. He quickly straightened up, deeply bowed to Alber, and turned to leave.
As Alber gazed into the distance, she closed her eyes, tears streaming down her face, yet her lips formed a serene smile. The suffering she had endured for so many years had not been in vain. The fact that these children now recognized and remembered her efforts brought immeasurable joy to her heart.
The woman clutched the bloodied child tightly, her anguished cries piercing the air, “My baby! My baby!” Her wails echoed with heart-wrenching pain.
As her tears fell, the woman glanced up, her face etched with unmistakable resentment that seemed oddly familiar to Eugene. In an instant, Eugene was jolted awake, startled by the intensity of her own emotions. The calm morning atmosphere embraced her, diffusing the remnants of her haunting dream.
“It was just a dream…” she whispered, still trembling from the surprise. The woman she had seen in her dream was the wanderer she had encountered the previous day—a person entrusted to her care by Myung King. The woman had claimed to be pregnant, her swollen belly a tangible testament to her words.
Throughout their meeting, the wanderer had remained expressionless, but Eugene sensed an underlying despair in her eyes. She seemed lost, uncertain of what the future held for her.
Eugene wished she could explain everything to the woman, to offer reassurance and dispel her fears. However, caution prevailed, and for now, she could only offer comforting words to ensure the woman’s safety. Eugene entrusted the wanderer into the care of Charlotte, who had promised to protect her and keep her hidden as one of her maidservants.
Yesterday, Eugene had learned that Charlotte had left the castle with the wanderer in tow. With two warriors accompanying them as escorts, she believed they should be safe. Still, the image of the forlorn wanderer leaving the room, shoulders slumped, lingered in her mind—a disconcerting dream indeed.
Sighing softly, Eugene found solace as Kasser’s arms wrapped around her waist, pulling her close. She closed her eyes, and when they opened again, she met Kasser’s comforting gaze.